Any driver who has a track in his home state is going to elevate that track to the top of his list of places where he wants to win. It is priority No. 1 for all drivers. If they don’t win at that particular track, they will never be fully satisfied until they get that win there.
Back when I was a crew member and then crew chief, winning at North Wilkesboro was important to Junior Johnson. Winning at the Fairgrounds in Nashville or at Bristol was important for Darrell Waltrip. With 95 percent of the race teams in the Charlotte area, there’s a lot of pride in winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May and October.
That motivation for a driver or a team is something that we touch on occasionally but really don’t have a clear understanding of how important a factor it can be. So this weekend we are at Indianapolis, arguably the second-most desirable place to win — behind Daytona — in the stock-car world.
So winning at the Brickyard is a huge deal for someone from Indiana such as Ryan Newman. What’s really interesting is Ryan has won the Daytona 500 but not the Brickyard 400. Conversely, his owner — fellow Indiana native Tony Stewart — has won the Brickyard 400 but is still seeking his first Daytona 500 win in his illustrious career.
Can you imagine the interesting conversations they have had about one vs. the other? Racing at the Brickyard is so special. Darrell and I had the honor of being one of the teams selected for the very first tire test there back in the ’90s. You are talking about hallowed ground. There is a mystique to the place just like you find at Daytona. It’s one of those places that is hard to put into words what it really feels like.
There are a lot of racetracks that, quite honestly, are just that — racetracks. It’s when you walk into Daytona, Darlington and Indianapolis that you are enveloped by this presence. There is a feeling of reverence and respect that comes from the realization of where you are and the history of the place. In my book, that feeling is second to none.
When you take someone like Ryan who is coming in from a week off, with a new baby, now needing a sponsor and then put him at a place like the Brickyard, well to me it’s like putting a T-bone steak in front of a Rottweiler saying, “How bad do you want it?” It’s called motivation.
I really think we could see Stewart-Haas Racing really shine this weekend at the Brickyard 400. That place is high on each driver’s list, so I see each elevating his game this weekend.
Tony has seemed to overcome the consistency problems he endured earlier this season. Obviously, he is sitting well for the Chase bonus points with three wins already this season. We talked with Tony last weekend, and he told us that both teams share information across the board. The obvious goal is for both teams to benefit from the combined information.
What is unique about their position now is with those three wins, Tony is solidly in this year’s Chase. If there is something new or something that needs to be tried, Tony can do it and not risk losing anything. Then if it works, the teams can use it on Ryan’s car to help elevate him into the Chase.
These guys are racers. They understand the importance of the Chase. In Tony’s case, obviously, he is our defending champion. In Ryan’s case, nothing helps convince a sponsor they will get a return on their investment than a car consistently in the Chase and always vying for a championship.
We all watched Tony make history last year when he announced in September, when the Chase field was set, that his team wasn’t good enough and he and they didn’t deserve to be there. Then we watched them catch fire like our sport has never seen before, winning five of the 10 Chase races to snatch the championship away from Carl Edwards.
There is absolutely nothing saying that the same thing can’t happen to Ryan Newman, but he first has to make the Chase. He already has the one win from Martinsville back in the spring, but as I keep stressing, it’s going to take at least two wins to make the Chase. He is only nine points behind Kyle Busch, who right now holds the second and final wild-card spot for the Chase. Each has one win. This weekend at the Brickyard 400 might be the perfect time for the Indiana boy to take that spot away from Kyle.